My head is in my hands. I’m looking down, wondering how this has happened. Age finally caught up with me. Years piled on years, and the decline that comes with it. I wonder what I could have done better, the missed opportunities… And then I pick up the deck and start a new game. I’m playing Friday, a solo card game about survival on a desert island. I linger over the cards that represent the aging of Robinson Crusoe, the negatives that they bring to your game, and curse them once again.
After some of my previous adventures in solo gaming, which included a short dip into the world of print and play games, in addition to the fun Hostage Negotiator, a friend gave me a lend of his copy of Friday. In this game you are Friday, trying to help Robinson Crusoe survive the desert island he has been shipwrecked on. Designed by Friedemann Friese, best known for designing Power Grid, this game was nominated for the Kennerspiel Des Jahres award in 2012, as well as being nominated for two Golden Geek awards.
The game is made up of three small decks of cards. First, there’s the obstacle/challenge deck. Every turn you draw two of these cards off the top of the deck, and choose which one you want to try overcome. Immediately you’re faced with a tough decision: will I try to tackle the easier obstacle, which will yield less reward, or should I try the tougher, more dangerous obstacle, and risk failure? Tackling the easy obstacle now means the tougher obstacle will come around later in the game, harder, more difficult to overcome as a result. Perhaps you want to take the tougher obstacle, and deliberately lose, because when you lose, you might actually benefit from it, but the cost might be high. Of course, sometimes it’s two easier challenges or two tougher challenges, and your choices become more about choosing the right reward. What reward you ask? Complete a task and Robinson gets more competent, completing the task gives him experience, meaning more cards and options into your action deck.
Next, the action deck. Ah, the action deck. The heart of the game. When you face a challenge, there’s a difficulty number that needs to be overcome. You draw cards off the top of the action deck (as indicated on the challenge card itself) and hope to beat the difficulty number. The starting cards aren’t that powerful, but as you overcome obstacles you add extra cards to your deck, some with higher numbers, some with special, life saving abilities. These cards represent Robinson getting wiser, learning from previous obstacles and applying that knowledge and wisdom to the current situation. It works really well, and you’re always trying to balance your deck so you can draw the powerful cards, but you want to keep the deck a little large too, because when you run through the whole deck, you add the age cards, which make up the third deck. You’re drawing these age cards blind and adding them to your action deck. You don’t know what they are. You don’t know what they’ll do. You don’t know when they’ll come back to haunt you. In short these age cards are bad news.
In my first game of Friday, I felt I had done pretty well. I had overcome the obstacles thrown at me, and come to the final showdown with the pirates. Oh, did I not mention them? The final step of the game is to confront two sets of pirates. They’re like regular challenges, but tougher. Much tougher. The number you need to beat to overcome them can be astronomical. You might play every card in your deck trying to beat those damn pirates and still lose! In my first game, I got to the showdown with the pirates, I was close to beating them. SO CLOSE! But then an age card came out. As I said previously you’re not allowed to know what age cards you’ve added to your action deck, you’ll never know when the effects of age will kick in, and you often won’t know what they are. In this case the card simply read “Stop”. I couldn’t play any more cards. I wasn’t close enough to beating the pirates, I lost my remaining health, and game over.
In my third game, I had managed to keep my deck small, with plenty of good cards but ultimately the deck was too small. I cycled through my deck too often, adding too many ageing cards. Poor Robinson was so old, so bogged down with the stresses of old age, he didn’t even make it to the pirates.
Life Imitating Games
I feel like there may well be a life lesson in this game: don’t get trapped on a desert island. But also, be aware of ageing because you’ll never be sure when the negative effects will kick in. Luckily for me ageing is just manifesting as a receding hairline and a few grey hairs in my beard. Unlike the poor unfortunate Robinson, we don’t have to deal with dangerous animals, cannibals or pirates in our lives, so we’ll get away with it! On a more positive note, there’s another great life lesson: challenge yourself, go out, try new things, it’ll add new tools to your toolbox, give you new skills and abilities to help you overcome future challenges.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Friday when I got the box. The art is a little goofy, the rules weren’t as clear as they could have been and overall felt slightly underwhelmed. But once I got into playing it, I liked it a lot. It features tough decisions, interesting development and a difficulty that ramps up. When I have a little spare time and feel like playing a solo game, at the moment Friday is what I go to: it’s a little easier to set up than Hostage Negotiator, and a little more streamlined, which means I can get a game finished quicker. As a matter of fact, I’m on my holidays in Croatia right now, and Friday is in my bag for those times I have a few minutes to myself. If you like solo games, I would recommend you pick up a copy. You can thank me later.
I don’t know if I should recommend beer for solo games. It’s a tricky thing: I like beer, I enjoy the various taste and flavour profiles, and I’m interested in exploring the world of craft beer as much as possible. But drinking on my own while playing a solo game feels like a very lonely experience. Often though, I’m playing a solo game in the kitchen, while my wife is on the couch reading a book, so I’m not REALLY alone. At times like these I’ll have a beer!
But what to match with Friday? Well, if you’re in the UK there’s The Friday Beer company, which is wholly unavailable in Ireland, which means I’ve never had it I can’t recommend it. There’s the Kona Brewing company from Hawaii, which is a tropical island that might help you picture what it’s like for Robinson on that kind of island. I’ve had some of their beers before, but it’s been a while, so I can’t recommend something specific. Then of course, there’s one of my beers of 2015, Curmudgeon, an old ale from Founder’s Brewing. Old ale, curmudgeon (usually an older man), get it? It’s ties in with the ageing cards!